Among the tools of the trade for solving a crime, police may rely on a combination of witness accounts, surveillance video, DNA evidence, and tracking technology in cell phones and computers. The use of mugshots from previous arrests may also be utilized by some police departments, but the practice has come under fire because it can easily lead to a wrongful conviction.
According to a recent New York Times article, the NYC police department has investigated crimes for 150 years by having victims look through mug shots of past arrests to point them in the right (or wrong) direction. Detectives start by loading a general description into a computer database which generates dozens of possible suspects for a witness to choose from and, although it may seem like a good place to start to drum up some leads, many innocent people may be arrested, and quite possibly convicted based on false identification.
The reliability of eyewitness identifications came under scrutiny in the 90’s as DNA testing began to exonerate people convicted of crimes based on mistaken eyewitnesses, which science went on to attribute to a the limits of memory. In fact, one study in Houston found that eyewitnesses who claimed to recognize an assailant were wrong nearly 50 percent of the time. Memory is just one part of the equation, however. Suggestive police procedures combined with a worn out victim flipping through photo after photo of people that look like the culprit can sometimes tip the balance in arresting the wrong guy.
There is little data available to say just how many police departments rely on open ended mug shot searches, but one survey of police departments with more than 500 officers reveals that while 56 percent of those responding said they do not use open ended mug shot searches, 44 percent acknowledged they do – potentially putting anyone with an arrest record at risk for becoming a suspect in a crime they did not commit.
The only offense against being accused of a crime you did not commit is a strong defense. If you are being investigated or are arrested for a crime in Wisconsin, get help now. Contact the Waukesha criminal defense lawyers of Andrew C. Ladd LLC for immediate assistance today at 262-542-3900.